The Gazebo: One of the Internet’s First Trans Safe Spaces
July 5, 2022 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Gwendolyn Ann Smith remembers when you could almost fit the entire trans internet into a single (virtual) room. This was the early ’90s, when only a few million people worldwide were on the web. Even though users were sparse, the benefits of getting online for trans people were acute. For those who didn’t live near significant numbers of other trans people, or for those who were not yet out to their loved ones, finding refuge online was an especially vital lifeline that has only grown more powerful over time. The Gazebo was a 48-person chatroom, named in honor of Lauren D. Wilson, a trans woman who died by suicide, and who dreamed of precisely this kind of safe digital space.
posted by gestalt saloon (6 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this! This is the same era when my partner transitioned female to male, and all the information on the internet was so bad that we created a website, supposedly from a fake trans organization, with better information so he'd have something not crappy and gross to share with his employers.

Years later, at our 20th anniversary party, we were regaling our guests with stories of our life together, and talked about this, and two of the trans people in the room said, "That was you? That website saved my life!" or words to that effect. That felt really good.
posted by Well I never at 8:10 AM on July 5 [27 favorites]

I am not trans, but was a queer neurodivergent atheist teenager in a very catholic and macho culture in the 90s.

I’ve told the story elsewhere, but in 92 I was part of a group of half a dozen Mexican teenagers with access to the internet.

There were some tiny safe spaces I found back then where I learned first that I was not alone, second how to cope and pass and be safe in your own closet (remember, teenager in a violent conformist culture), and third how to start being myself and advocate .

I’ve been raking my brain trying to remember the names of the IRC servers and channels, the BBSs and Very early websites, but all that comes to mind are LustyMUD, a multi user dungeon where I met incredible weirdos while battling kobolds and obtaining ruby bladed vibro axes. And an IRC channel that was called something like MHCU or YTOG (rot-n applied to LGBT).

Oh, and a gourmet and medicinal mushroom cultivation forum that was moderated with an iron hand and was full of older hippies teaching the young ones the principles of kindness, acceptance, and using any scarp of privilege you may have in support of the more marginalized.

I miss that time and I am eternally grateful to Gwendolyn and all the people like them that created and maintained these places. I wonder we’re Beard of Legolas are now, they taught me the use of the singular they while trying to kill each other in a text only and ballistically accurate tank war simulator.
posted by Dr. Curare at 8:48 AM on July 5 [7 favorites]

We need places for us, by us. Somewhere we have more control over what can be within it, so that we can mold it into something that works for us. As useful as Twitter has been, so much of our energy gets spent in a day having to deal with transphobic bigots of all sorts. How does that shape our community? What does it do to deal with that each day, instead of spending time together? I don’t know how many of us are going to be able to build such a space without having a Twitter or Tumblr or Discord as a basis, because it’s gonna take a certain level of finances and technological know-how to make it happen. But we need something that has our back much more than what we have now.

I'd be very interested to hear Gwendolyn's take on Mastodon.
posted by zamboni at 9:22 AM on July 5

For me the online safe space was FurryMUCK. I started playing a lady dragon there in late 1995; she ended up being the source of my name when I transitioned. I was definitely not alone, given how much the furry scene has grown into a place where being queer is perfectly fine with most people.

Mastodon does indeed have a lot of queer spaces on it, I run an instance myself that's largely full of queer furries, and regularly block entire instances for being full of transphobes. It's pretty nice to have a place where the admin is gonna come down on anyone doing that kind of shit.
posted by egypturnash at 9:46 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]

egypturnash, we are of similar vintage. I thought you'd find it amusing that I once came out to someone who would later turn into a seven-year relationship with the sentence "You know your friend, shatterstripes? ... That."
posted by tigrrrlily at 3:29 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]

Hahahah well holy shit, tigrrrlilly. I hope those seven years I helped kick off were ones you look back on fondly, and that ended in a friendly parting rather than a violent breakup!
posted by egypturnash at 8:21 PM on July 12

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